My husband still feels very uneasy being on a plane. Telling him that more people die by falling down ladders or by fireworks accidents than by plane crashes doesn’t help.  The odds of dying in a plane crash are 11 million to 1 (similar to TOTO), but that still doesn’t comfort him. As complicated beings, sometimes we worry about things that don’t make sense and are unlikely to happen. Yet there are some things that are very likely to occur that we don’t think twice about. Here’s a comparison of what people commonly worry about versus what they ought to worry about.


A Commonly Overlooked Risk of Death

Before we get into the details of the “worry list”, I wanted to go over some background information of why this topic was of interest to me.

The anniversary of my grandmother passing was exactly 14 years ago. She lived almost fully functioning till age 93. Still in good health, she could have lived longer, but she fell. And this fall was the cause of her sudden deterioration. My neighbour’s mother (age 71) also had a fall and died almost instantly. It wasn’t until these 2 incidences that were so near and dear to me that I began to wonder just how common it was to have a devastating fall. The answer? All too common!

Even the non-fatal falls can result in life-altering injuries, including brain damage. Falls and other trauma are the 5th leading principle cause of death according to the Ministry of Health. But they’re easy to miss because they are categorised as “external causes of morbidity and mortality”.  Although the usual suspects – cancer, pneumonia, heart disease, and stroke – are higher up on the list, falls often complicate these illnesses.

But most people won’t even think of fall risks, let alone consider falling being the cause of their own death or disability. So I began to wonder what types of things people worry about versus what actually is likely to cause financial ruin.


Top 15 Things People Actively Worry About Day to Day

First, a caveat. Depending on your age and stage in life, the items on the list and its order changes. For example, a Gen Y youth will not have the same worries as a Boomer retiree or a single mum. Therefore some items on the list may not apply to your situation. This top 15 list is a condensed (slightly modified) version of a list of 30 “most common triggers” of worrying from a study of British adults. The study found that Brits spend over five years of their life worrying, which amounts to nearly two hours each day.

Top 15 Day-to-Day Worries
1Being Overweight
2Getting Old
3Saving Enough/Financial Future
4Overall Fitness
5Other Financial Debts
6Credit Card Debts
7Rent/Mortgage Payments
8Job Security
10Finding a Job
11Sex Life
12General Happiness
13Physical Appearance
14Meeting Work Targets & Goals
15Whether Partner is Still in Love


Top 10 Reasons for Financial Catastrophe

This list is from an article about personal bankruptcies filed in the US. In the US, most bankruptcies (97%) are filed by individuals, and not by corporations. Although this is a US statistic, it is likely that most of the list resonates with Singaporeans.

Top 10 Events that Lead to Personal Financial Bankruptcy
1Medical Expenses
2Reduced Income
3Job Loss
4Credit Debt
6Unexpected Expense
7Education Loan
8Tax & Utilities Costs
10Bad Budgeting & Overspending


In comparing the 2 lists, it’s interesting to note that the day-to-day things that plague our minds or trigger negative self-talk, may not be the things that end up ruining us financially. Being out of shape, debt, ageing, and job security seems to be at the forefront on people’s mind.

Only much further down the list is there any mention of relationships, but only in the context of romantic relationships. Although “addiction” (#24) appears on the list, there’s no mention of injury, trauma, disability, or even death. Sleep, or enough sleep, also does not appear on the list.

Yet, these are the common overlooked issues that can eventually lead to financial ruin. And beyond outliving your nest egg, there are other major concerns, such as who will take care of you when you are older?


Mind Your Relationships

I once had a high net worth client who had multiple child support and maintenance payments. He would always mention them because he sought sympathy, but I didn’t feel really sorry for him. Though when he was hesitant to fill in the “emergency contact information” in a financial planning form, that’s when I realised he had no close ties.

He was all alone, yet it wasn’t always that way. And he probably never imagined it’d end up that way either. Perhaps it was a result of him not worrying enough about his relationships to maintain them.

Psychotherapist and Author Esther Perel says that we often give our “leftovers” to our partners. We assume they will stay with us for a lifetime, and that love, desire, intimacy, respect, and communication will naturally persist.

Perel said, “Make sure you don’t bring the best of yourselves to your companies, your clients, your friends, while you bring the leftovers home.”

It’s well known that having better relationships is a common deathbed regret. It is also a common cause of financial ruin. On the flip side, having strong and stable relationships – romantic and otherwise – is one of the best personal and financial supports in life.


Maintain Your Health & Wellbeing

Most health problems today, from being overweight to having diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney problems occur because of our lifestyle. While some unlucky people may have congenital issues or are genetically predisposed to certain health problems, the vast majority of health issues are caused or made worse by our everyday decisions.

Like money, over the course of many years, the lifestyle we’ve “accumulated” has a “compounding effect”. It becomes harder to change the trajectory or direction of our health as we age. Our older bodies won’t respond as quickly to positive changes. And the likelihood of a medical emergency starts to increase at a faster rate.

Medical debt is the number one reason for personal bankruptcy in the US. Whenever I mention this, people quickly reply with “Oh, I have insurance so it won’t affect me”. Unfortunately, having health insurance in no way guarantees that you won’t fall victim to medical debt.

In Singapore, outpatient medical expenses are often not covered by insurance. While hospitalisation is covered, it may also be subject to deductibles, copayments, and claim limits. And with any insurance, you have to remain current on your premium payments.


Don’t Neglect Sleep

One commonly overlooked health issue is sleep, or lack of sleep. Recent studies show that lack of sleep can be very damaging to your health. Sleep deprivation can reduce your IQ, make you grouchy and error-prone at your job, make you act more racist, and also set the stage for Alzheimer’s Disease. Worst of all, chronic sleep deprivation can leave you permanently adapted to your new level of lowered IQ and diminished reasoning and mental capacity. In other words, you won’t even realise how much smarter, sharper, and adept you used to be when you had adequate sleep.

Sleep affects so many aspects of one’s health and even one’s relationship, work performance, and mental wellbeing. Instead of worrying about whether you dress well (#28) or whether you are attractive to others (#16), you might want to consider whether you get enough sleep.


Global Concerns that Also Affect Us Individually

It’s no surprise that most people don’t worry about global issues on a day-to-day basis. These are problems that are not so much “in our face” as other problems. But because we live in a time of rapid change and disruption, these global issues can have a swift and significant effect on our lives.

For example, some people believe we are at the base of an exponential growth curve. This means that rapid, unprecedented, and life-altering changes are on their way. And these changes can affect our safety, security (including job security) and stability. How will we adapt?

Jobs: How will automation and artificial intelligence affect us? Will we still be relevant in our jobs if the rate of knowledge is doubling every 12 months, soon to be 12 hours? Will there be adequate employment in the future? If you own a business, will your product or service become obsolete and replaced by another solution?

Resources: With climate change, how secure are our supplies of water, food, and energy? As an island nation, what will happen to our land? Will we still have clean air and adequate access to healthcare?

Safety: Rapid change can lead to instability, not just in the family unit but at the national and international level. How might that affect poverty, crime, cyber attacks, violence, and extremism? What are the possibilities of a nuclear war?


Why Being Frugal Matters

It is especially in these times of rapid change and economic uncertainty that practicing frugality matters. Remember that frugality does not mean being cheap or miserly. It means being mindful and purposeful in your spending. Practicing frugality can lead to greater gratitude, more pleasure and happiness, and an emphasis on experiences and relationships rather than things.

Frugality was once a prescribed virtuous way of life for early Romans as a way to toughen them up. This is why “spartan” translates to austere, frugal, and strict instead than opulence and prodigal. In these times, we might all need frugality as a way of saving our resources, making do with much less, and ultimately, a means of survival for ourselves and maybe even our species.


4 Comments on What We Should Worry About vs Our Actual Worries

    • Hi Marcus,

      Thank you for your comment. Sleep quality definitely impacts your mental and physical health, and your cognitive performance, which in turn, can affect your finances.

  1. I always turn to your blog for motivation whenever I feel like I am straying from being frugal. I hope you never stop writing.

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